Personal Growth - Forgive and Be Free
by Anita Anand
"Father, forgive them for they know not what they do." Jesus Christ said as he was put to death. Luke 23:34
Look at me. Tell me, who is the one person you feel has wronged you, is your enemy, and that has caused you pain? Now, bring the face of that person to your mind, and tell them that you love and forgive them. Then, say that you love and forgive yourself too. Is this hard to do? Many think so. How often have we heard “I can never forgive that person; I can never forget what they did to me or my family”. But, without forgiveness, consider that life would be harder.
My first real encounter with forgiveness was during my hypnotherapy sessions with Dr Satin. In the course of the therapy I was taken through a process in which I identified people in my life that I was holding grudges against and felt wounded and aggrieved by. Through this I unburdened my heart – by speaking to them about what I was holding against them and sending them and myself love and forgiveness – thus liberating myself of this burden. Literally, I felt lighter. Over a period of time, I extended this love and forgiveness to others in my life. The effect was rather electrifying. A certain kind of joy and lightness came over me. I began to be able to forgive in others things that had previously bothered me. I began to surprise myself. For the first time, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do,” the words of Jesus Christ just before he died, made sense to me.
So, what is forgiveness and why is it so important? The American Psychological Association defines forgiveness as the mental, and/or spiritual process of ceasing to feel resentment, indignation or anger against another person for a perceived offence, difference or mistake, or ceasing to demand punishment or restitution.
Forgiveness in Religion
Some religious doctrines or philosophies place greater emphasis on the need for humans to find some sort of divine forgiveness for their own shortcomings; others place greater emphasis on the need for humans to practice forgiveness between one another, yet others make little or no distinction between human and/or divine forgiveness.
In Buddhism, forgiveness is seen as a practice to prevent harmful thoughts from causing havoc on one’s mental well-being. Buddhism places much emphasis on the concepts of metta (loving kindness), karuna (compassion), mudita (sympathetic joy), and upekkha (equanimity), as a means to avoiding resentments in the first place. These reflections are used to understand the context of suffering in the world, both our own and the suffering of others.
For Christians, a believer forgives, as a response to God’s forgiveness; some believe and preach that the forgiveness of others is a necessary part of receiving forgiveness ourselves, and vice versa. In fact, at the end of the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus says that unless we forgive we won’t be forgiven.
In Hinduism, the practice is of performing atonement for one’s wrongdoing and asking for forgiveness. Atonement and forgiveness are related to the law of karma, which is a sum of all that an individual has done, is currently doing, and will do. These deeds actively create present and future experiences, thus making one responsible for one’s own life, and the pain in others. An even more authoritative statement about forgiveness is by Krishna who in the Gita says that forgiveness is one of the characteristics of one born for a divine state.
Islam teaches that Allah or God is ‘the most forgiving’, and is the original source of all forgiveness. Forgiveness often requires the repentance of those being forgiven.
epending on the type of wrong committed, forgiveness can come either directly from Allah, or from one’s fellow man. In the case of divine forgiveness, the asking for divine forgiveness via repentance is important. In the case of human forgiveness, it is important to both forgive, and to be forgiven.
In Judaism, if a person harms one, but then sincerely and honestly apologises to the wronged individual and tries to rectify the wrong, the wronged individual is religiously required to grant forgiveness. But if the wrongdoer does not apologise, there is no religious obligation to grant forgiveness.
Forgive and Heal
The act of forgiveness is less of a recognition of, or letting go of error, than it is an act of the recognition of the overriding good in another, thereby enabling both the one who would forgive and the one who would be forgiven, to actualise their greatest good.
It can be motivated by love, philosophy, appreciation for the forgiveness of others, empathy, personal temperament or pragmatism, including fear, obligation, appearances, harmony, or release. As such, forgiveness is a great power, and a prerequisite for any true or genuine peace. And, most important, for personal growth and healing.
What is the connection between forgiveness and healing? Healing is possible through acts of forgiveness, says Dr Caroline Myss, a pioneer in the field of energy medicine and author of numerous books. In her book, The life and teaching of Jesus, Myss writes, forgiveness is a spiritual act of perfection, but also a physically healing act. It is not an option but a necessity for healing.
Myss defines forgiveness as a complex act of consciousness, one that liberates the psyche and soul from the need for personal vengeance and the perception of oneself as a victim. More than releasing from blame the people who cause our wounds, forgiveness means releasing the control of victimhood over our psyches. The liberation that forgiveness generates comes in the transition to a higher state of consciousness – not just in theory, but energetically and biologically. In fact, stresses Myss, the consequence of a genuine act of forgiveness borders on the miraculous, and indeed may contain the energy that generates miracles themselves.
Healing techniques such as hypnotherapy, chakra cleansing and crystal therapy focus on the power of intention, and consciously use the energy around the heart. As a therapist, I believe that most people’s issues can be traced to hurts – starting with parents, siblings, extended families, teachers, friends, colleagues in workplaces, bosses and supervisors, spouses and children. In a culture where so much religious teaching focuses on forgiveness there is no practical training in forgiving people and moving on. So much so, increasingly medical literature suggests that many physical symptoms can be traced to psychological roots.
Several years ago, a person in his mid 50s came to me for therapy. He was suffering from asthma, sleeplessness and inability to function. Upon investigation it turned out that he had a great deal of anger towards his father (for abandoning his mother and taking a second wife) and his brother (who he blamed for not caring for him and the family). He was deeply hurt that his son’s engagement had broken off as the fiancee’s family felt that his son may be a ‘womaniser’ too. I suggested that he consider forgiving his father (who was dead) and re-uniting with his brother (who he was not on speaking terms with, despite the fact they lived next door to each other). My client could forgive his father after a great struggle, but had trouble forgiving his brother. Eventually, he said, maybe I can forgive him, but I will never forget all the sorrow he has caused me.
In my therapy, I place the crystals on the seven major chakras of the client, and under hypnosis I ask the clients to speak to the person they need to forgive. After they have said what they needed to say, I ask them to send love and forgiveness to that person and themselves. The power of the words “I love and forgive you because you didn’t know any better”, and “I love and forgive myself because I didn’t know any better” get to the heart of forgiveness. It gives the benefit of the doubt to the person that needs to be forgiven and to the person seeking healing. At the end of the day, if the person being forgiven or the person seeking the healing knew better, then they would not be doing what they did. Yes?
I am not suggesting that this exercise alone can free a person from his problems. But, I do believe it is a beginning, in the long process of learning how to let go, to give others the benefit of the doubt, to practice largeness of heart and to get on with one’s life.
Only in the last few decades has forgiveness received attention from psychologists and social psychologists. Psychological papers and books on the subject did not begin to appear until the 1980s. Dr Robert Enright from the University of Wisconsin-Madison is regarded to have placed forgiveness on the map. He founded the International Forgiveness Institute and is considered the initiator of forgiveness studies. He developed a 20-Step Process Model of Forgiveness.
Dr Everett Worthington, a known lecturer and author on the subject of forgiveness has developed the Pyramid Model of Forgiveness. It involves the following stages:
Recall the hurt. When we are hurt, we often try to protect ourselves by denying our hurt. We think, often correctly, that if we don’t think about it, it won’t bother us. But if unforgiveness keeps intruding into your happiness or resulting in ulcers in your gut, consider forgiving. Recall the hurt as objectively as possible. Don’t rail against the person who hurt you, waste time wishing for an apology that will never be offered, or dwell on your victimisation. Instead, admit that a wrong was done to you and set your sights on its repair.
Empathise. Empathy involves seeing things from another person’s point of view, feeling that person’s feelings, and identifying with the pressures that made the person hurt you.
To empathise with your offender’s experience, write a brief letter to yourself as if you were the other person. How would he or she explain the harmful acts?
Altruistic gift of forgiveness. Empathy can prepare you for forgiving, but to give that gift of forgiveness, introspect. Have you ever harmed or offended a friend, a parent, or a partner who later forgave you? Think about your guilt. Then consider the way you felt when you were forgiven. Most people say, “I felt free. The chains were broken.” Forgiveness can unshackle people from their interpersonal guilt. By recalling your own guilt and the gratitude over being forgiven, you can develop the desire to give that gift of freedom to the person who hurt you.
"We will all have experiences that break our heart, but the question is: what will we do with the pain?"
Commit to forgive. When you forgive, you can eventually doubt that you have forgiven. When people remember a previous injury or offence, they often interpret it as evidence that they must not have forgiven. If you make your forgiveness tangible, you are less likely to doubt it later. Tell a friend, partner, or counsellor that you have forgiven the person who hurt you. Write a “certificate of forgiveness,” stating that you have, as of today, forgiven.
Holding onto forgiveness. When you have doubts about whether you have forgiven, remind yourself of the Pyramid, refer to your certificate of forgiveness, and tell yourself that a painful memory does not disqualify the hard work of forgiveness that you have done. Instead of trying to stop thoughts of unforgiveness, think positively about the forgiveness you have experienced. If you continue to doubt your forgiveness, work back through the Pyramid.
Like Dr Worthington, who suggests starting his model with ‘recalling the hurt’, Dr Myss says that the fourth chakra, which is located at the heart, is the centre of the human energy system. We will all have experiences that break our heart, but the question is: what will we do with the pain? Will we use it as an excuse to give fear more authority over us, or can we release the authority of the physical world over us through an act of forgiveness? This question will be presented to us over and over again in our lives and the answer will become our liberation.
Finally, Myss says, we all need to think love and live in gratitude and appreciation. Inviting change into your life, if only through your attitude, reminding yourself of the message of the spiritual masters: keep your spirit in the present time. In the language of Jesus “Leave the dead and get on with your life.” And as Buddha taught, “There is only now.”
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